Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seven Pounds

 Seven Pounds Title

  • Released Internationally on 19/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 28/01/09

Some sort of diet film?

After leaving his superhero mark on the summer box-office in the flawed-but-fun Hancock, Will Smith is back in a more sombre affair for the winter months. The title doesn’t refer to weight-loss or finances, but to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, where the infamous pound of flesh demanded by Shylock remains a chilling literary image of retribution. Smith stars as Tim Thomas, a likeable, smart engineer who makes one tiny error of judgement which ends up causing a horrific traffic accident, and the death of seven people. Tormented by guilt, he sets out to find seven genuinely ‘good’ people, and do his utmost to give them a better life, as he feels they deserve.

Hyperlink cinema.

To reveal more of the plot would be a disservice to the filmmakers, as one of the major plus points here is the gradual and intriguing unveiling of the story, in a technique often described as ‘hyperlink cinema’. By starting off with seemingly-unconnected plot-lines and jumping from one to the other, we are initially left in the dark about what Thomas is up to, but as the story starts to coalesce and fall into place, we are set-up for the grand finale, albeit hinted-at previously. This technique has worked wonderfully in various films over the past decade, most notably 21 Grams, Babel, Crash and Syriana, and is put to good use here. Although the entire plot concerns Thomas, his personal journey involves seven different people, over a span of time, but sharing one common climax. Telling this story in chronological order would probably have resulted in a less-confusing first half, but a much-less satisfying second half.

Still fresh.

Will Smith remains a huge star in his own right, loved by cinemagoers and filmmakers alike, and it’s easy to see why. As he has often done before, he carries the entire story on his shoulders, and gives us a main character worth watching for over two hours. Even when we’re presented with confusing scenes that seem out of character and are hard to place sequentially, Smith makes Thomas believable, and ultimately likeable and admirable. Without Smith this character, and therefore the plot built around him, could easily have turned into farce, with a passive audience at the end. But Smith can now afford to pick his roles carefully, and he must have seen this as suiting him perfectly. With his Fresh Prince still drawing laughs on YouTube and TV re-runs, and with very few duds in his big-screen career, this is one star worth watching, whatever he’s in next.

Heart and mind.

Much like his 2006 offering ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, this film is all about heart, and unashamedly tugs on our emotions, often in grand operatic fashion. The scientific facts behind the plot sometimes get swept aside without delving into too much detail, but I guess a certain amount of suspension of belief is excusable, and expected. However, the film is set in the present, and certain jarring facts distract from the main message, and might detract from your enjoyment of an otherwise moving modern fairytale.

Who’s in it?

Apart from Smith, the most striking performance comes from an increasingly impressive Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Death Proof, Eagle Eye) who is going from strength to strength in a great variety of roles, and always comes out on top. She gets the most attention out of the titular seven strangers, and rightly so as her story seems the most tragic. Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, Natural Born Killers) has a short but very memorable role as a disabled call-centre employee who’s slow to anger, and Barry Pepper (25th Hour, Saving Private Ryan) is torn between his feelings as a friend and his promises to Thomas. Italian director Gabriele Muccino is reunited with Smith, whom he directed in Happyness, and he adds another fine emotional drama to his mostly Italian body of work. Venezuelan composer Angelo Milli wrote the original score, including a powerful piece for the film’s climax, but interestingly two of the sentimental high-points of the film are enhanced by a cue from Ennio Morricone’s score to La Leggenda Del Pianista Sull’ Oceano. I guess Milli couldn’t match the maestro when it mattered.

In the end.

The initial confusion slowly gives way to realization and satisfaction, and the characters are engaging enough to make you actually care about the striking conclusion, even if it might seem inevitable. The acting is wonderful, and the story is far-fetched, but heart-warming. Worth watching.





Tuesday, January 20, 2009


 Defiance Title

  • Released Internationally on 16/01/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/01/09

In a nutshell

The new blond Bond, Daniel Craig, returns as a very different type of hero in the moving true story of Tuvia Bielski, who along with his brothers helped an ever-growing band of Polish Jews survive the Holocaust for over two years in the forests of what is now Belarus.

More WW2?

Over sixty years later, the second world war still has lots to offer in terms of shocking and heroic story-telling. Whether it’s fiction and extrapolation such as Life is Beautiful or the recent Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, or fascinating fact like Schindler’s List, Defiance or the upcoming Valkyrie, we still have a lot to learn from a war which most people alive today weren’t around for. The tales of villainy and valour are just as resonant today, as we face new wars and live through new forms of human tragedies, albeit often as detached observers. And this could very well be why the subject matter has produced some of the best and most enduring films of recent decades, apart from the evident opportunity to mix adventure and human emotion. This new addition to the endless story of the ‘great’ war is smaller in scope and focus, but just as important and interesting. As a true story it complements Schindler’s List as yet another story of supposedly selfish but ultimately generous individuals who by their leadership and defiance helped a definite number of individuals survive the holocaust, and start a new life after the war. For every descendant of those survivors, this story is all that matters.

Fight or Fly?

Orphaned at the start of the Nazi invasion, the four Bielski brothers are forced into hiding in the forest they know very well, in what occupied Poland. As time goes by their tiny band grows, and they refuse no one, despite struggling to cope with the numbers of mouths to feed. Their hiding place eventually takes on a more permanent form, and over months a small Jewish community grows in the depths of the forest. The community binds together out of necessity and a common enemy, and new relationships are formed. But the cruel winter and the inevitable frayed nerves and frustration threaten to tear the community apart.

Band of Brothers

Bielski himself cannot see eye-to-eye with his younger, but also adult brother Zus, who thinks fighting the Germans is a more honourable way to live than cowering amongst the trees and scavenging for food. But eventually they rejoin forces when it is most needed, and gather their community together in a last gasp run for freedom.

Who’s in it?

Bonding well with Craig’s Tuvia is Liev Schreiber (The Painted Veil, The Sum of All Fears) as his brother Zus. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, King Kong) is surprisingly headfast for his age as their younger brother Asael, while relative newcomer George Mackay rounds off the family as the youngest brother Aron. The film is directed by Ed Zwick, who’s no newcomer to epic war films, having given us The Last Samurai, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond and Glory, as well as the expansive Legends of the Fall.

In the end

Craig is convincing as the dominant brother, but it’s not easy for him to shake off his Bond image, despite the dirt, grime and muted cinematography. The supporting cast are all great and bring a number of minor characters to life, and overall the plight of these defiant few becomes a moving issue, although their prospects are never really in doubt.